CLAYTON — One of the cornerstones of St. Louis County’s plan to spend revenue from the Proposition P public-safety sales tax passed by voters in 2017 was the construction of new precinct stations in Affton and in north St. Louis County.
In 2017, the county borrowed $13 million for the projects, with the payments to be drawn out of Prop P revenues. In February 2019, the county paid another $3.4 million for seven acres on Gravois Road, the site of the former Sappington Garden Shop, for the Affton Southwest precinct station.
But during a budget hearing on Tuesday, county budget director Paul Kreidler delivered a bombshell to the County Council: The North County precinct station was moving forward, but the Affton Southwest police station was not.
Kreidler appeared before the council Tuesday to present County Executive Sam Page’s proposed 2021 county budget that included pay raises for county employees, boosts in funding for the police department and no other job reductions or cuts to services.
The disclosure about the police station was not part of his presentation but came in response to a question from Councilman Tim Fitch, R-3rd District, the retired county police chief, who said he had heard a rumor the project was dead.
Council members expressed disbelief, particularly Ernie Trakas, whose 6th council district overlaps much of the Affton Southwest police precinct.
He told Kreidler: “It was my clear understanding that that was a priority item. The Prop P funds used to purchase that property were done expressly for that purpose. The drawings are completed, the land has been prepared, and frankly, I find no sufficient excuse as to why that project is put on hold. And if it’s canceled, there will be serious and spirited discussions with respect to that.”
Fitch said Wednesday it was “shocking there has been no update and no progress and we have to find out what’s going on through rumors in the police department.”
The rank and file didn’t know, either. Joe Patterson, executive director of the St. Louis County Police Association, said Wednesday his members were “displeased and discouraged after hearing the news that the residents of Affton will not have a community-accessible police station built as promised through Prop P.”
Patterson added, “Community policing is of paramount importance in St. Louis County and the ability to have a building where the community and the police to interact is crucial.”
The county’s use of the Proposition P funds has been the source of constant controversy from the moment county voters overwhelmingly approved the half-cent tax in April 2017. The tax was projected to raise nearly $50 million per year for the county.
In March, Kreidler told the council the county had committed to spend too much of the fund, creating deficits projected to burn through a $20 million surplus by 2023. And that was before the coronavirus cratered the county’s revenues this year.
Kreidler, the county’s director of performance management and budget, told the Post-Dispatch on Wednesday the Affton station was stalled because the projected cost of building two stations had doubled to $26 million.
He said the police department decided to proceed with construction of the north St. Louis County facility. Doug Moore, a spokesman for Page, said the Affton station was on hold until the county could find another way to pay for it.
The Post-Dispatch sought information to explain why the cost escalated so drastically. Moore said the county would be building the North County precinct building on 6.8 acres it had bought from Christian Northeast Hospital.
The newspaper could not immediately locate any record of a sale of property to the county in that area. The police department currently leases an office near the hospital.
Told of Kreidler’s claim that the project cost had doubled, Trakas said Wednesday, “I don’t believe that for a minute. Doubled? Based on what? All this is a convenient narrative so they can somehow use the money for something else, I suppose.”
The county police department in December 2018 abandoned the precinct station it was renting at 9928 Gravois Road after a roof leak was discovered that a department spokesman said may have caused mold.
The precinct temporarily moved 5½ miles to the southwest in a small space in a strip mall at 5030 Griffin Road, off Tesson Ferry Road.
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